Interview with McCain's Top Foreign Policy Adviser 'Obama's Trip Is a Campaign Prop'

Randy Scheunemann is John McCain’s top foreign policy adviser. In an interview with SPIEGEL, Scheunemann discusses Obama's upcoming speech in Berlin, how an Obama presidency would hurt the trans-Atlantic relationship and why his popularity in Germany won't affect the election.

SPIEGEL: Germany seems like "Obama country" these days. Tens of thousands are expected to witness his speech in Berlin. Do you feel snubbed by the Germans?

Randy Scheunemann: No, I think it is logical they are curious to see Senator Obama. After all, he has not traveled very much. He has never been to Germany before in any official capacity. Senator John McCain has warm and close relations with a wide range of Germans. He has visited many times.

SPIEGEL: The trip has even turned into a political issue in Germany. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has argued publicly with Chancellor Angela Merkel about Obama's desire to speak at the Brandenburg Gate. Merkel opposed the idea; Steinmeier embraced it.

Scheunemann: I think Senator Obama has put a close ally in an uncomfortable position by staging what is essentially a campaign rally in a foreign country. I think if he has created that much disruption with a close ally as a candidate, it is not a good signal of how he should perform if he gets elected President.

SPIEGEL: The German government stresses that it would also welcome Senator McCain. Will you be taking them up on the offer?

Scheunemann: I'm not sure that we will be taking any more foreign trips. Senator McCain was in Europe in late March. We were scheduled to come to Berlin, but the chancellor was travelling in Israel at that time. Unfortunately our schedules did not match.

SPIEGEL: Obama could strengthen his foreign policy credentials with a successful trip to Europe. Are you worried about the trip's impact?

Scheunemann: No. One foreign trip is not going to substitute for the years and years of experience Senator McCain has. Obama is giving his first major speech in Berlin before having met with French or British leaders. I don't know if it is even delivered before his meeting with German leaders. Clearly he is not taking into account what they say. It is a campaign prop.

SPIEGEL: What are the main differences in the trans-Atlantic views of McCain and Obama?

Scheunemann: Senator McCain has a deep understanding of the trans-Atlantic relationship formed by years of experience -- not just by reading briefing papers. He also has a commitment to multilateral diplomacy on issues like Iran. If you look at Senator Obama's position on Iran, it's a unilateral approach: unconditional meetings with the Iranian leadership. That means giving up the hard-won trans-Atlantic unity not to make premature concessions on such a crucial issue.

SPIEGEL: Then why is Obama so much more popular in Europe than McCain is?

Scheunemann: Some of it may be because the current occupant of the White House is so unpopular and Senator McCain happens to be from the same party, even though he has differed on issues Germans care about -- global warming, the treatment of detainees and the conduct of the war in Iraq. But Senator Obama is taking a risk here. He might win a popularity contest in Europe now, but the elections are going to be held in the United States.

SPIEGEL: But most Europeans have a hard time with McCain's Iraq policy.

Scheunemann: There is not a single European government that has endorsed an artificial timeline for a US withdrawal from Iraq. They understand that the consequences of a complete withdrawal from Iraq would be disastrous -- and that our current Iraq strategy is succeeding.

SPIEGEL: There are rumors that the McCain campaign tried to pressure Chancellor Merkel not to welcome Senator Obama too warmly.

Scheunemann: Absolutely not. We have not intervened in any way.

SPIEGEL: Has the White House tried to intervene?

Scheunemann: I have seen press accounts. But I can't comment on behalf of the White House.

The interview was conducted by Gregor Peter Schmitz.

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